Public speaking is important for anyone who hopes to be promoted, get a new strategy accepted by colleagues or simply communicate. Learning to speak to a group and doing it well take a lot of time and effort. I've written about this before because I believe good public speakers can accomplish a great deal through a successful presentation. I've talked to many colleagues about developing this skill, but most of those whom I have urged to develop this ability don't really seem interested; either they don't really care about becoming a public speaker, they are too shy or they just don't seem to understand the long-term benefits.
Any leader who doesn't get the concept should be ashamed of themselves, because public speaking is something they are called on to do time and again. If they do it well, it can bring all kinds of benefits to the company or organization they run.
Over the years I've had the pleasure of working with some great presenters and speakers in publishing. Dick Opfer comes to mind almost immediately. He was Look magazine's Midwest manager for many years, and with a few dry-erase boards he could captivate a roomful of executives with his zeal and the breadth of his presentation. Jim Dunn, the national sales director of Life for many years, was another presenter who could wow any group of customers with his public speaking. He would later be named publisher of Forbes. Enthusiasm and sincerity were his strengths, and when he gave a presentation you could feel his love of the product and his love of his job. Alan Waxenberg, who worked for Petersen Publishing Co. and then became publisher of Good Housekeeping years later, was another excellent public speaker.
I worked with all of these gentlemen and watching them and learning from them was something that has helped me in all my years in publishing. I observed how effective it was for them to give a good presentation to customers and then watch those same customers buy advertising schedules in the magazines these men represented.
So the question is, how can anyone learn the skill of being a public speaker? It does take time, but anyone, if they really want to learn, can do so with practice, practice and more practice. Talk to people who are good presenters and ask for some pointers. Don't be shy; most people love to mentor others, and the sincerest form of flattery is to ask someone for help.
Too many people don't do this because they believe they are intruding on another person's time.
Another way to learn is to watch speakers at meetings or symposiums and when you see someone really dazzle an audience, take notes on how they speak and some of the tricks they use. I watch speakers all the time to see their style and other characteristics.
It's as simple as this: Most people are interested in what you have to say or they wouldn't come to see you. Or if you are a salesperson, you wouldn't have gotten an appointment with whomever you are seeing if they weren't interested in what you're selling. It is your job to reward whomever you are presenting to with a better-than-average, well-organized talk about what you are selling. Make it different and entertaining so your audience isn't bored.
Talk to someone who sees salespeople all the time and analyzes what they say and how they present and they will tell you that only about one out of 100 presentations captures their attention and are what they would call well-done. Hard to believe isn't it? But that is what I have heard time and again. Speak with people who have attended a symposium held at a nice resort and ask them how many presentations or presenters really caught their attention. Do it fast because most of the people I talk to after any kind of meeting can't remember who the speakers were or what they had to say. That shouldn't be the case, but it is.
There are speakers, however, who leave an impression because they talk to their audience and tell stories. Presenters may even talk about themselves or how they perceive trends in the industry. Talking about yourself in the right way can demonstrate maturity and security. People love it when you can make your point through personal anecdotes.
A few tips: When making a speech or presentation to colleagues, a board of trustees or an audience of strangers, do it with passion, conviction and enthusiasm. People won't see your knees shaking or the sweat on your brow; they will be mesmerized by the fact you care and that you've given them the courtesy and respect of giving them some of yourself. Don't worry about yourself so much and start thinking about how you can make your audience understand what you are trying to convey. Ask for speaking tips from friends, colleagues or anybody you can find, and then practice speaking. Ask your spouse or a good friend to critique you -- you can even hire a coach.
It all starts with opening your mouth. It begins when you are willing to make mistakes and improve. It depends on doing everything you can to develop a style and then practice it. Rehearse in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning. Videotape yourself and be genuine in your approach.
If you really work at public speaking, you will get better and when others ask how you learned the art of public speaking, mentor whomever asked you for help.